The 5 biggest drawbacks to running a business with your partner
1. Shared stress
How many of you come home from a day at work and offload to your partner about an unreasonable boss, unrealistic demands, a difficult client, inconsiderate colleagues….etc? You get it off your chest, your partner makes the right noises, you move on. So what happens when those annoyances are equal to both of you? Annoying things happening at work can start to consume you if you let them. You can find yourself going over old ground, worrying about the same things, dwelling on problems that aren’t easily resolved.
A view like this put things into perspective
What can happen is if you can establish a rhythm to feeling stressy, a kind of see-saw effect. For example, when I’m frustrated that things aren’t getting done on time or obstacles just won’t budge, Chris will try to rally me, pointing out the positives. Equally, when he is struggling, it helps me shelve my own worries, almost with the unspoken rule of ‘if you are letting this get on top of you, then i won’t. But next time it’ll be my turn’. You can’t both be on a downer at the same time because then there is a risk of just getting mired in the crappiness of a situation. The business isn’t going to function if both give in to having bad days.
2. Never switching off
A lot of people see this as a problem, ie ‘how do you talk about anything else if you work together?’ I actually see it as a benefit. Most couples will talk about work together, but your partner isn’t ever going to really get it in the same way you do. When you work together, you both get it; there is a lot you don’t need to say. Another thing is, if you have both turned your back on working for someone else, chances are its because the business you have chosen if something you enjoy and feel passionate about. Or at least you can get excited about the freedom or money you can make on the back of your efforts. So if you enjoy what you do, you are probably going to enjoy talking about, planning, inventing, getting excited about the possibilities. Yes, you may find that half way through a movie you pause the DVD to say, ‘you know that thing…? I’ve had an idea’ or conversations over dinner could do with someone taking minutes, but that’s a small price to pay really; you are getting to create a future and a life that you both want. And that is something worth talking about.
When you work with a partner you will spend a lot together. When you travel whilst working, it’s even more intense; whereas at home you might pop to the gym or visit a friend, away from home much of the time your options are more limited. It really depends how much time you can comfortably spend with each other and how much time you prefer to be apart and this can really vary for different people. We all know people who rarely socialise together, or work in such a way they pass each other on the doorstep and rarely seem to connect. Or there’s the others who seem to live in each other’s pockets, to the extent that well meaning observers quietly comment, ‘surely it can’t be healthy?’
Getting some space!
If you both value a working, travelling lifestyle you work round the tricky bits. I might disappear into a book, and wherever I go I try to find a yoga class I can attend a couple of times a week. Chris sticks his headphones in, settles down with his laptop and watches episodes of Top Gear, The Apprentice- you get the idea. Again, it all depends what is more important to you. Of course there are times where you are going to get on each other’s nerves. So you just have to know when to back off without taking it personally, and wait until you get back in sync!
4. Shared income
A shared income can be tricky for a couple of key reasons. One is the pressure you both have of the business having to sustain both of you. The other is the often psychological minefield of having joint cash.
So, let’s look at the first one. There is undoubtedly more pressure on your success when you know there is only one source of income. I think a big reason stopping people following their dreams is the sense of security you can get from having at least one steady wage-earner in the partnership. How many of us have used the need to pay the mortgage, keep the insurances paid up and put some pension money away as an excuse not try a different route? It’s completely understandable- ‘I need to keep working so we can be financially secure’ is a very compelling argument. But how important should, ‘I need you to stop working so we can have a better quality of life’ also be?
There will be times in business when it gets a bit scary, without a doubt. The money won’t be coming in and your bills will be going out and that is unsettling to say the least. There will also be months when more money than you could have both earned in full time employment will materialise for fewer hours work. You need to expect the highs and lows, but you also plan. You don’t embark on a one income business without putting aside some ‘rainy day’ money. You don’t leave your career without knowing that you could get back in if you needed to. You don’t invest everything you have without testing the waters and researching the viability of your plan first. Once you have some contingencies, one income perhaps won’t look quite so risky.
The risk seems worth it now!
So point two; shared money. I don’t think the problem is so much about the money itself; it’s about mindset i.e. what having your own money means to you. For some people it can mean independence; control; security. It can mean not being beholden or vulnerable. It can be a safety net if things don’t turn out well, or means of valuing your contribution and worth. It’s important to work out what your financial independence means to you, and how you can retain a sense of this even when your income is shared. Whatever the situation is, if you need to adapt, you will. It’s surprisingly easy to get used to changes in your circumstances, if you are clearer why you have chosen them.
For a lot of people, having a shared income can be liberating- no more trying to work out who owes who what or whose turn it is to pay. It all just comes out of one pot. If you are used to having your own money, and have a partner who you suspect may question how you chose to spend your joint income, you need to work out a solution before you get too far along this path. It depends what you both feel comfortable with- you can both draw salaries; you can have separate accounts; you can put aside personal savings. Whatever your issues are with money, make sure you work them out before you head down this route, as you don’t want to be arguing about it later on when it’s much harder to establish new rules.
5. Being different!
Chris and I have been running this business and travelling together for nearly three years and I am still learning all the ways we are different, and what that means to us as a couple and as colleagues. Take last night for example. Chris turned round from the sofa where he was responding to emails while I was in the kitchen clearing up. ‘Listen to this’. He then proceeded to read me an email tirade which was in essence an unsubscribe request that had turned into a wordy rant. When Chris finished reading, I was a little abrupt. ‘Why did you read me that?’ Puzzled, Chris replied, ‘because it’s funny ’. ‘Not to me’. I argue. ‘It hurts my feelings. Stuff like that makes me feel rubbish so why would you tell me about it?’ But genuinely, Chris had no idea why that email would have had any impact on me whosoever, because he is pretty thick skinned and I’m not. And unlike him, when I feel hurt I can want to lash out, even though I know I’m not being very fair.
A day off at the beach!
We have adopted a strategy for when we are not seeing eye to eye- it sounds like the sort of thing I would have said originally when I was trying to appear balanced and logical, whilst acting emotional and unreasonable. But it’s developed into a good diffusing tactic- ‘I’m not saying I’m right, it’s just how I feel!!’